s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: Cat. & Reference: Authority control

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cat. & Reference: Authority control

I used to work at a company that did database work for libraries. I worked in the division that created catalog records, and later in one that digitized text and images. (And then I went and got my MLS and now I do pretty much the same thing, go figure.)

Anyway, another division of the company used to do this very mysterious work called "authority control." I would ask people to explain what it was, but I could never get a very clear explanation from anyone, which I took to mean something along the lines of "If you could even begin to grasp it, young padawan, it would blow your mind!"

Happily, one of the things I did learn in grad school was how to give someone a more succinct description of authority control. So.

Authority control is standardizing the form of proper names and subjects in library catalog records.

(I know! $60,000 well spent, right?)

The point of authority control is to create one "bucket" for each author and then to put everything they wrote or helped write in that bucket and to keep everything that has nothing to do with them out of the bucket.

So, if you are Bud McCorkindale and you're an author, you can have your own bucket with "Bud McCorkindale" written on it and all of your stuff goes in there and everyone is happy.

On the other hand, if your name is John Clark and you want all of your books to go in the "John Clark" bucket . . . well, there are a lot of other John Clarks out there, too, and all the books by all the John Clarks are going to get mixed up in the same bucket unless you find some way of distinguishing them.

I'm going to cover three different philosophies of authority control in future posts. (I could include them in this post, but nobody reads my librarian posts if they get too long.)


At May 28, 2009 9:31 PM, Blogger MB said...

I'm interested! I'm interested!

At May 29, 2009 8:21 AM, Blogger Katya said...

Ha! Thanks for saying so. I'm almost done with the first follow-up post, but it's been a crazy week and I don't know when I'll finish it.


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